BELLEVILLE, NJ — The reason things happen may be in the stars, but by a confluence of worldly factors a Bloomfield High School graduate, Dawn Ferrara, Class of 1989, has created what may be the first bowling league in the state for people who are blind and visually impaired.
The teams will be meeting every Wednesday evening this summer at the Brunswick Zone Bowling Lanes, in Belleville. In addition to Ferrara, who is sighted, two other sighted individuals living in Bloomfield, Amy Glick and Rachael Lepiscopo, will be assisting her. Ferrara currently lives in Roselle.
“I have a lot of connections in Bloomfield,” she said. “I grew up there and was part of the Ladies VFW Auxiliary Post 711.”
The league started this past November with four people.
“Three were visually impaired and one was totally blind,” Ferrara said at the lanes last week over the din of clattering pins.
But through word-of-mouth and social media, the league got noticed and things expanded.
“In February, we had 17 people,” she continued. “Nine were visually impaired, one was blind and two were also hearing impaired. Now we have 14 people and three teams.”
The individuals with hearing impairment, she said, belong to an organization that told them of the league. Players make it to the lanes by carpooling or Access-A-Ride.
Glick and Lepiscopo bowl in the league. There is a hand railing, which Ferrara designed from PVC piping, near one lane to assist players.
“I went to the Home Depot in Bloomfield and they built it on the spot,” she said.
Ferrara does not bowl.
“I am the team administrator, secretary and treasurer,” she said. “In other words, another paper-pusher. I just run the league along with my boyfriend, Josh. It was his vision and dream. I am just the one who knows which buttons to push in order to make it happen and help it grow.”
The league began in November after she met her boyfriend, Josh Valese. Ferrara said he can see with only one eye and just 20 feet in front of himself. As a 13-year-old, she said he was shot in the head by a neighbor who went berserk.
“Google his name,” she said.
The incident occurred March 1989 in West Orange. According to a published report, Valese was shot with a handgun fired by George Proctor after teenagers allegedly threw stones at his “mint-condition” 1983 Cadillac and punched him in the face when he exited the vehicle. Proctor also killed a 10-year-old girl, wounded another child and the police officer who finally killed him.
Ferrara said Valese and a friend wanted to start a league for the blind.
“But he didn’t know how to put it out there,” she said. “That’s when I became involved with the NJ Federation for the Blind.”
The NJ Federation for the Blind had only recently established a sports and recreation division. This past January, Ferrara connected with the division president, Linda Melendez.
“She said it was ironic,” Ferrara said. “They had an interest in bowling.”
And last month Ferrara was elected to the board of the division.
The president of the NJ Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind is Joe Ruffalo, another BHS graduate, Class of 1967.
Ruffalo resides in the township and has been the chapter president since 1993. He has been totally blind since 1976 as a result of retinitis pigmentosa, a deterioration of the retina.
He said the recreation and sports division for the NJ chapter began this past November.
“It’s new,” he said. “We want to get feedback from our members.”
There are other sports in which people who are blind and visually impaired can participate, he said.
“I went surfing last year,” he said. “Not very well.”
In June, he said there is going to be a National Federation for the Blind 6K race. It will be run in Baltimore and is called the “Six Dot Dash.” Ruffalo explained that there are six dots in a Braille cell, such as one sees on elevator panels and restroom doors, to tactiley inform people with a visual disability of what is before them. Ruffalo said, like everyone else, after a race, blind people have sore legs and back aches.
“We are people that want to fit into society,” he said. “Some people think blind people should sit on the street corner.”
There is also audio archery, he said. This is where an individual hears a target move on their smartphone and releases an “arrow” by tapping the screen when the sound target is centered — a bull’s eye. Ruffalo said the purpose of people who are blind engaging in sports is not competition.
“It’s just getting out there and doing it,” he said. “It’s getting out there and doing something positive.”
Back at the bowling alley, one person who does it for fun and to compete was Anita Lisica, of Clifton. She is visually impaired and said she can see perceive light and shadows. She ordinarily bowls through the Special Olympic program of the Clifton Department of Recreation. That program is currently dormant but will start up again Oct. 2.
“I’ve been doing it for a long time, every Saturday,”
she said. “It’s like practice and they have competition in February.”
Lisica said she joined the new league because she loves bowling. Her average this year is 136.
Her all-time high game is 157. In bowling, a perfect score is 300. She interrupts the interview to knock down seven pins with one roll and then with the next roll, the three standing.
That is called a spare.
Ferrara said she hopes to grow the league, but she is also thinking outside north Jersey.
“By the fall, Josh and my goal is to start another team in south or central New Jersey,” she said. “A lot of people are showing interest. And there’s a bigger organization — the American Blind Bowling Association. Jersey was one of the few states that had no blind bowling association.”
That has been changed.